Let’s suppose that you wanted to see all 72 bands at WMNF’s Tropical Heatwave at the Cuban Club, New World Brewery, the Crowbar and the Ritz in Ybor City May 1st and 2nd. You are a marathon runner, obviously. So the plan is to run from venue to venue, check off each band you see for a minute and a half, then run on to the next stage.
That would work for Friday night, when there are 24 bands playing in a seven-hour time block. Of course, you wouldn’t actually be able to hear any of them, but clearly that wasn’t the point. Forget Saturday, though. Eight stages, 48 performers, seven hours. Even the Flash would struggle with that schedule.
So you’re not seeing 72 bands. Maybe you’ll see a dozen, maybe not even that many. The choice is yours. The printable schedules from WMNF are superb guides to help you find the various genres you’d like to hear (and they will have a pocket schedule for you at the door).
Do consider this, though. At a festival such as Tropical Heatwave, some of the best performances will come from bands you’ve never heard of and genres you thought you didn’t care for. And you can take that to the bank.
Punk and new wave. Americana and roots rock. Ska and reggae. Swamp and zydeco. Hip-hop, soul and R&B. Folk and bluegrass. Jam and gypsy funk. Salsa and world music. Jazz and brass. Indie and alt-country. Rockabilly and swing. Electronic dance and afrobeat.
If you can’t find a half dozen things on that list you love, you should probably stay home. You’ll hate seeing thousands of people having the time of their lives.
I haven’t seen most of the bands on this line-up, which is one of the greatest compliments to those WMNFers who work so hard to throw this shindig every year (34 times!). On my hot list: Palo!, the Afro-Cuban funk/salsa band; Blair Crimmins and the Hookers, swing and hot jazz; EMEFE, funk pop with and afrobeat tinge; Trae Pierce and the T-Stone Band, funk and R&B; and Galbraith Group, prog rock/blues/jam.
Those last two highlight the sort of conflicts you’ll have to work out for yourself. They play during the same time slot. My thought: split time between the two venues so that I know what both bands sound like. I’ll know whether I want to check them out again.
There are six bands in particular that come highly recommended (by me). Opening the festivities on Friday at 6 are the definitely off-kilter Bath Salt Zombies. This quintet dresses in various costumes, among them turn-of-the-(20th) century undertaker clothes. Their madcap songs are punctuated by excellent bluegrass picking. Their tunes range from macabre to zany: “(Don’t Fall in Love with a) Bearded Lady.” That’s the way to start off this musical bacchanalia (WMNF’s own accurate description).
Row Jomah is a really solid jam rock band, and they venture into funk and blues with ease. Joe Roma fronts this Clearwater quintet that will close down the New World Brewery stage Friday night.
Holey Miss Moley from Orlando has been blowing it up every time they hit the stage. The masters play jazz and funk and R&B in huge doses. Vocalist Danny Clemmons has truly expanded the bands repertoire. Christian Ryan, the man who played 250 gigs last year on alto sax (and bari, and tenor, and flute) is the most in-demand musician in Florida – in any genre. Guitarist Jacob Cox explodes every chance he gets.
The late slot has a nearly-impossible conflict: Come Back Alice, the gypsy swamp funksters from Sarasota, and the legendary Dirty Dozen Brass Band. There are many great brass bands from Nawlins, but DDBB are still kings. Come Back Alice has been playing some legendary performances themselves, with Big Bad John Werner on bass and Yral ‘datdudeondrums’ Morris anchoring the proceedings while two exceptionally gifted musicians melt faces. Tony Tyler is a triple threat. His guitar is amazing, his Hammond B-3 work is stunning, and his singing puts him in a category with Gregg Allman and Warren Haynes. Amazing. Dani Jaye is a talented singer, tremendous guitar slinger and incredible violin player. You work it out.
All the way from Los Angeles, Sergio Rios brings his “funk/R&B/Afro-disco” band Orgone for your dancing enjoyment. They have always been a superb band, but their two sets at Bear Creek were incendiary. But, as Lavar Burton used to say, you don’t have to take my word for it. Go on YouTube and search for Orgone Bear Creek 2014. Check out the stunning “Time is Right” and a magnificent cover of Gwen McRae’s “Keep the Fire Burning” and a George Porter, Jr., sit-in on “Ain’t No Use.” You won’t believe your eyes and ears. Dale Jennings is a monster on bass. And three more words: Adryon De Leon.
Tropical Heatwave is always a sonic overload, truly a musical bacchanalia. Indulge yourself.
Get those running shoes on first, though!